In which Miss Molly finds the facts.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I went back to Camp Sloper to give another talk. This time it was on the facts behind fiction.

I know you’re thinking, in your most sarcastic voice, how exciting. I’m sure the kids LOVED that.

But, I assure it, it was awesome. And they really did enjoy it.

Have read Dracula? Do you know who Vlad the Impaler is? Or about how shoddy medical practices were in the 1600s? Or that when you die your gums, nail beds, and scalp can recede, which makes it look like your teeth, nails, and hair grow?

Have you heard of the Loch Ness monster, or the Lake Champlain monster, Champ? Do you know what a Plesiosaur is? Do you know how similar those three creatures look?

Have you ever wondered how myths and creatures, like the Griffin, were created?

Have you ever actually seen a Giant Squid? Did you know that the biggest one that we’ve found (so far) was 43 feet long? What about that they have hooked claws on their suckers to rip open the flesh of their prey? Or that when scientists hooked a Giant Squid, after a four hour battle, the squid cut off it’s own tentacle to get away. When scientists hauled up that tentacle (which was 18 FEET LONG) it was still moving on it’s own? Did you know that we haven’t even come CLOSE to plumbing the depths of the ocean?

The facts behind popular fiction and mythology are all around us! All we have to do is look.

I wanted this talk to be about how we, as writers, can use what we observe around us to create something fantastical and mysterious, scary and true.

I brought in a bunch of nonfiction books that had information about everything from Greek Myth to Vampires, dinosaurs to Werewolves. The books I choose were all fun and accessible, great for talking about the facts behind fiction.

I chose:

Monster hunt : exploring mysterious creatures by Jim Arnosky. This book looks at a few mysterious creatures from legend, natural history, and controversial contemporary sightings.

The griffin and the dinosaur : how Adrienne Mayor discovered a fascinating link between myth and science, by Marc Aronson with Adrienne Mayor. Which I’ve talked about before.

Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire’s Book of Greek myths. This is a re-telling of the myths of ancient Greece, complete with family trees and illustrations.

Small and tall tales of extinct animals by Hélène Rajcak and Damien Laverdunt. This book describes twenty-seven extinct animals and explains how and why they became extinct, along with their location, and a story about them in their native land.

Encyclopedia horrifica : The Terrifying Truth bout vampires, ghosts, monsters, and more! by Joshua Gee. This book contains true stories of creatures such as vampires, aliens, werewolves, and ghosts, accompanied by photographic evidence, eyewitness accounts, and original interviews.

I started out the day with Greek Myths. We talked about Persephone and Hades and what their story is supposed to explain. Why we have winter. Then we moved on to talk about how stories help to explain what we see around us. Even if it’s not scientific. How stories explain emotion, seasons, physical traits of humans or animals.

Then we moved to other tales. How there are werewolf and vampire stories from several parts of the world. How those tales came about, how they are similar and different, the facts behind them. Did they develop by coincidence, or because of soemthing more? How could places separated by so much distance, in a time without quality communication, come up with the same information if it wasn’t true? Then we talked about reliable witnesses.

All in all, it was a great day. We had some much fun. The kids really connected with this topic. There’s something about the morbid and the dark that really draws people in. I kept this talk light, obviously–I was talking with 9 and 10 year olds. But, kids can handle more than most adults think. And getting them interested in a seemingly scary topic can teach them about research. Hear the story. Find the facts. Make the monsters miniscule.

(Or creep yourself out more because the facts are sometimes more gruesome that the fiction!)

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